Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 40;   October 5, 2016: How We Waste Time: I

How We Waste Time: I

by

Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share, but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.
Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during the Hubble Telescope's Service Mission 1

Among the most famous examples of "spills" as defined here, or rework as commonly defined, is the first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, STS-61, in which astronauts installed a set of specialized lenses to correct the flawed main mirror in the telescope. The cost of the telescope itself was 2.5 Billion USD 1990. Estimates of the cost of Service Mission 1, which installed the COSTAR mirror correction system, do vary, but a reasonable range is about 30% of the telescope cost.

Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

We all waste time, but some people and organizations waste time habitually, on their own, while others are forced to waste time because of someone else's mistakes. We tend to notice only the mandatory time wasting that results from the actions of others, but it's useful to catalog all causes of wasted time. That information can be a guide for investigating just how much of what we do could be avoided if we took appropriate measures.

In that spirit, here's Part I of a catalog of ways we waste time.

Make-work
The textbook definition of make-work is any activity that serves no purpose other than to keep someone busy. Supervisors do sometimes assign make-work, but I believe that most make-work is self-assigned. That is, we take on tasks that give us a sense of actually doing something, even though the output produced is of no value. For example, we sometimes devote effort to improving something that's already way past good enough. Or we produce something that might be needed later, when a little time spent in reflection could have revealed the remoteness of the chance of its ever being useful.
Rework
Rework is work that was perfectly successful the first time, but which must be done again because the result of our first effort got trashed, lost, or damaged in some way. Maybe the dog ate it. Or we accidentally deleted it. Or we delivered it to the people we were supposed to deliver it to, but they trashed it or lost it or something. Carelessness can be a cause, but often the tools we use are so finicky and badly designed that damaging mistakes happen too often.
Cleaning up and treatment after spills
A "spill" is any This catalog of ways we waste time
can be a guide for investigating
just how much of what we do
could be avoided if we took
appropriate measures
incident that creates a need to clean up or repair equipment, facilities, code, or any other factor of production. Spills can also create a need to treat personnel for injuries received. All consequences of spills count as effort. Some of it is very expensive, and little or none of it produces customer value. After-incident reviews are essential to reducing the incidence of spills.
Leaping before looking
Rushing into something injudiciously can create spills or a need for rework if the rushing led to incorrect modification of — or damage to — deliverable items that subsequently need to be restored. But a more wasteful consequence of rushing is the need to back out work that shouldn't have been done at all. In that case, the waste consists of (a) doing the wrong work; (b) doing the work required to undo the wrong work; and (c) the meetings and debates that were necessary to convince people that the work shouldn't have been done and now needs to be undone.

We'll continue next time exploring some subtler and more-often-overlooked ways we waste time.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How We Waste Time: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A rowboatFiguring Out What to Do First
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance to Asset
Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
Winslow Homer's painting, BlackboardFill in the Blanks
When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis CarrollHow to Avoid Getting What You Want
Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.
Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.